Bridging the Generational Divide

June 27, 2007

Today the CIO of my company did a presentation titled ‘Generational Insight to Workforce Planning’ which described our companies (and many others) situation of an aging Boomer workforce and a growing demand for young knowledge workers. Obviously there wern’t too many surprises in that presentation since that is much of what this blog is devoted to, but what turned out to be very interesting was the conversation that ensued after the presentation.

The room was comprised of members of all four of the major generations currently in the workplace: Matures, Boomers, Xers, and Millennials. One gentlemen brought up the concept of retirment and the fact that very little has been done in terms of succession planning and knowledge management for his position. His concern was what is going to happen to all of the knowledge hat he has acquired over several decades of dedicated employment when he checks out. My immediate concern was not only what is going to happen to that knowledge, but how will it be managed?

I’m sure that a Mature or Boomer would prefer one means of documenting and handing off information and the growing number of Xers and Millennials would prefer an alternative. So how does the employer choose the most appropriate tools for these different generations? If those older workers are more comfortable with a Word doc or email message but the younger workers would prefer to access and upgrade that information through a wiki or have it incorporated in a mashup or team collaboration area; how do you bridge that gap? It was an eye opener for me as a Millennial in that I know what I want and how I want it. However, I often forget that Matures and Boomers also know what they want and how they want it and that their desires have become much more ingrained into their person over time.

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Work-life Integration = New Hotness

May 5, 2007

Everyone seems to have there own opinion on what they feel work-life balance really means. Many believe that work should not interfere with ones personal life and vice versa. Based on my experience, these are the same individuals who you can generally set your watch by. Clock in at nine, clock out at five, eat lunch in between, by themselves, at their desk. There is certainly nothing wrong with this mentality which seems to be more associated with older generations. They have been conditioned by both society to be home in time for dinner regardless of issues at work and by employers to formulate routines and be accessible to bosses during normal working hours. Then comes along Gen Y with their mobile devices and demands for flexibility.

My opinion is that those members of the Millennial Generation are not interesting in the same work-life balance that their older coworkers are interested in. Those more seasoned generations are interested in a more harsh separation between work life and personal life. They prefer to leave work at work and check their personal lives at the company’s front door. I see younger workers less interested in a harsh separation and actually prefer to integrate personal and work into one entity, I guess we could just call that ‘life’. I want to be able to work from wherever, whenever. The thought is that work is something that you do, not a place that you go. I want to take personal phone calls while I’m at work, access my personal email, and better yet, access to members of my personal life.

I’m sure much of this cultural change can be associated with the rise of the Internet during our generation. We are the most networked generation thanks in large part to the MySpaces and Facebooks of the world; we are constantly connected and have access to information about everyone and everything. We have grown up with mobile devices and Web applications that have untethered us from a physical location and have granted us the flexibility to do what we want when we want. Now we are demanding the same of our workplace. I see work-life balance as a thing of the past and the future lies in work-life integration.


Who You Callin’ Special?

March 9, 2007

There are several key reasons why Millennials have and will continue to make a big impact on the workplace in the coming years.

  • Size: Gen Y or Millennials make up the largest generation since the Baby Boomers. With size comes power, as boomers phase out of the workplace Gen Xers will step up to the plate but Millennials will also be needed to back-fill the massive void generated by retiring boomers.
  • Technology: Millennials are the first generation to be completely comfortable with technology. We’ve grown up with it, particularly younger members of this generation. Millennials are fluent with technology and the older generations will always speak with an accent.
  • Thought Process: Since Millennials have grown up during the Digital Revolution and have grown dependent on the Internet and cell phones, the Millennial mind has morphed. Research has shown that younger minds have become multithreaded instead of a queue that can only effectively manage one input. It sounds a bit out there but just look around your office; those multithreaded thinkers are listening to iPods, tabbing through multiple Firefox tabs, chatting with several people on the office IM, while reading emails using multiple monitors.

So Millennials, count your blessings. We have been afforded the special tag by simply being born at the right time. As technology became mainstream and the home PC was the norm. In elementary school we played Oregon Trail and died of dysentery, in middle school we fell in love with the ‘You got mail’ sound clip and chatted with lovely ladies in the lesbian chat room (who were probably other 13 year old boys), and in high school we hung out in computer labs and developed our own Web sites. We never knew what it was like to not have access to a computer and all of the wonders that came with it.

Older generations have needed to learn technology and consequently many aspects of technology will always come more difficult to older members of the workforce. We all know that guy who can’t get his printer to work b/c he has his USB cord plugged into the network port or the coworker who is shocked over the power of the Alt + Tab combo.

However, please keep in mind these are generalizations. I have a gentleman at work who is in his fifties and is well above most Millennials on the technical curve and a lady who is a Millennial who killed a printer by putting scissors in the way of moving fan blades.


Today’s Corporate Annoyance, Tomorrow’s Corporate Leader

January 25, 2007

We are often called slackers and are generally perceived by older generations as lacking a strong work ethic and having an unjustified sense of entitlement. These older generations are beginning to phase out of the workplace. Some of the elder Baby Boomers have already begun to retire and many more will follow suit in the next decade or two. It will be on the shoulders of the Millennials to back fill those positions, including leadership roles, vacated by the older generations. So how do we go from the slacker kid kickin’ it in his/her cube navigating between several Firefox tabs listening to their MP3 player to becomming team leads, middle managers or even executives?

  • Identify Hot prospects and Replacement Candidates – discuss those rising stars and how best to prepare them for management or specific higher-level positions.
  • Career Planning – allow for individuals to freely discuss career goals and future aspirations within the company.
  • Formal or Informal Mentoring –provide guidance and regular feedback to help younger workers identify strengths and weaknesses. Mentors should provide advice that facilitates that individual’s growth through the company.
  • Corporate Management Training Program – provide a source of future managers, support diversity goals and bring in fresh ideas.
  • Cross-Functional Training Program – infuse some new hires in different technology services to expose them to different areas of the organization.
  • Apprenticeships That Incorporates Other Parts of the Business – the more steeped employees are in business knowledge, the more aligned IT will be with the business side.
  • Leadership Development Programs – combines training, assessments, coaching, networking, etc.
  • Educate Those Rising Through the Ranks – bring in outside help as management consultants and send some workers to management seminars and classes.
  • Succession Planning – allows for the company to quickly react to sudden departures by placing the appropriate individual in that new role based on their long term career goals.

Great leaders are made not born. Potential leaders need to be hand picked by their predecessors and be provided the necessary skills and knowledge to become tomorrow’s corporate leaders while maintaining the characteristics that make members of the Millennial Generation so unique.


Let the Battle Begin…

January 22, 2007

I ran across this interesting article out of the UK, IT chiefs must prepare for informal “Generation Y”. The general gist of this article is that companies need to begin to accommodate the Millennials entering the workplace or else they will be left in the dust. Those companies who begin to offer more flexible, informal work environments will be much better equipped to recruit and retain this next generation of workers.

So as a millennial in the workplace, what is your company doing to keep you happy and retain you as a valuable asset and what are they dong to recruit other young, tech-savvy workers of tomorrow? Are they providing teleworking opportunities and distributing mobile devices such as Smartphones, UMPCs, Tablet PCs, or laptops? How about your work environment in general, is it a fun corporate culture or is it uptight and stuffy?

My company has given me a laptop and offers a nice broadband VPN to work from home, however you cannot access the Internet while connected to the VPN nor are there any formal telework policies which leaves me chained to my desk Monday – Friday. The overall vibe at my workplace is relatively uptight due to a workforce whose average age is double that of my own. Granted it is a utility company whose roots can be traced back to George Washington. That certainly doesn’t mean that this company or any other, regardless of history, should not have or be working on a plan for addressing the technology and workplace needs of our generation.


Coming of Age for the Millennial Workforce. WTF?

January 20, 2007

Sounds kind of heavy right? Well it isn’t. it just means members of the millennial generation, the largest generation since the Baby Boomers, have recently begun trickling into the professional workplace and will continue to do so for years to come. As these former students transition to active members of corporate America, many changes will be required of companies to recruit and retain these highly-skilled, tech-savvy workers slated to replace the retiring Baby Boomers. The goal of Millennial’s At Work will be to define members of this generation including their role in the workplace, to discuss what “experts” are saying about us and what that means to our employers and more importantly to ourselves, and talk about personal experiences as working millennial’s.